ST. PETERSBURG — Laid off at age 61, Diane Stewart has had a difficult past four years. She was forced to give up a comfortable beach apartment and downscale into more modest government-subsidized quarters.
A week ago, though, she moved into a spanking new apartment that makes her feel as though she has her old life back.
"I feel like I'm home, finally,'' gushed Stewart, 65, Tuesday. "This is the first time I've had new, new.''
Stewart and more than a dozen others began moving into City Place Senior Living, 298 Eighth St. N, over the Labor Day weekend. The affordable housing complex with four floors of apartments for people over 55 boasts granite countertops and laundry hook-ups in each apartment, silk draperies in lobby areas, a library, fitness room, computer room and covered parking for each of the 82 units. There is a shuffleboard court, a rooftop terrace and even a place where visiting grandchildren can play.
There are still vacancies for those who meet the income requirements, said building manager Jim Peace of Cambridge Management.
Her apartment is a godsend, said Stewart, a former compliance officer for a manufacturer.
"I live on $700 a month. I never expected to have anything this nice on my income,'' she said.
Besides, the downtown location is convenient. "This is my neighborhood. I spend most of my time here, at the Sunshine Center, and the library and St. Peter's (Episcopal Cathedral). Walgreens is just up the street. I just moved five blocks away. This is close to where I spend my life,'' she said.
Stewart said she watched the complex being built and called the day the sign went up. She didn't get one of the building's balcony units, but she is thrilled with the two-bedroom, two-bath apartment she's still decorating. Tuesday she showed off her new home, which she has furnished with finds from CASA and other thrift shops.
"I have a full-size kitchen,'' she said.
"This room,'' she said, pointing to the living room, "is going to be a pale gold. The kitchen is going to be a deeper gold.''
The second bedroom is for crafts and her computer work. The second bathroom, well, that's for her cat, Jasper.
Willie Mae McGarrah is just as pleased with her new apartment.
"I never dreamed this would happen to me at age 82. … Brand new everything,'' she said.
Like Stewart, she also moved from another low-income downtown complex. She'd read about the new building for seniors in the newspaper, and her daughter encouraged her to make the move.
"I feel comfortable here. I met so many of the neighbors here, and everybody is of one accord,'' said McGarrah, resplendent in a flowing pink dress accessorized with pink earrings, necklace and head scarf.
Tuesday she got a chance to meet Mayor Bill Foster, who attended the grand opening.
"I hadn't met him since he became mayor,'' said McGarrah, who took the opportunity to remind Foster that they once attended the same church.
The $15.5 million project was developed by Southport Financial Services with help from the Florida Housing Finance Corp., the agency that administers the low-income housing tax credit program. A $500,000 loan from the city of St. Petersburg at 1 percent interest aided its tax credit application. Pinellas County and Regions Bank also were involved in the project.
Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 892-2283.